By: Cynthia Marcotte Stamer
Employers, health plans and individual taxpayers should be concerned about reports of deficiencies in the eligibility and enrollment tracking procedures of some health insurance exchanges or “marketplaces” created under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) that are likely to identify individuals enrolling in health insurance coverage offered through the Healthcare.gov and certain state health insurance exchanges or “marketplaces” as eligible for subsidies who in fact are ineligible for subsidies.
As the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) rely upon Marketplaces’ eligibility and enrollment records to enroll Americans in health insurance coverage through the ACA created marketplaces, to help determine in individual Americans and employers are complying with the ACA shared responsibility rules, and to determine which individuals enrolling in coverage through marketplaces qualify for ACA subsidies, deficiencies in these practices and resulting errors in eligibility and enrollment records are likely to mean headaches for employer, health plans and individual Americans.
Marketplace Eligibility & Enrollment Data Critical To Administer ACA Reforms
Accurate eligibility and enrollment determination by marketplaces is critical to the administration of the ACA’s complicated web of reforms, including the determination the determination of whether the employee of a large employer who enrolls in coverage qualifies for a subsidy so as to trigger an obligation for the employer to pay an employer shared responsibility payment under IRC Section 4980H if the employee is not enrolled in group health coverage offered by the employer meeting ACA’s requirements.
As part of ACA’s massive restructuring of the health care payment system enacted by President Obama and the then Democrat-led Congress, most Americans now must pay an “individual shared responsibility payment” unless enrolled in “minimum essential coverage” one of the ACA-approved health coverage options. Along with this individual mandate, the ACA:
- Dictates that all group and individual health insurance policies other than a narrow list of “excluded” plans include the rich and generally expensive package of ACA-mandated “essential health benefits,” pay a host of ACA-imposed taxes and assessments, and comply with a host of tight ACA market reforms;
- Penalizes employers with 50 or more full-time employees (large employers) that fail to offer all full-time employees group health coverage for the employee and each of his dependent children (hereafter “dependent coverage”) through an employer-sponsored arrangement that provides minimum essential benefits at a cost not greater than 9.5 percent of the federal poverty level by providing that any large employer with at least 1 employee enrolled in subsidized health coverage offered through an ACA-established health insurance marketplace, to pay a monthly “employer shared responsibility payment” under Internal Revenue Code Section 4980H of:
- For any large employer not offering any group health plan employee and dependent coverage providing minimum essential coverage to each full-time employee, $150 per full-time employee per month; or
- For any other large employer, $250 per month for each full-time employee earning less than 400 percent of the federal poverty level enrolled in subsidized health insurance coverage through an ACA-established health insurance marketplace unless the employer shows the employer offered the employee the opportunity to enroll in employee and dependent coverage under a group health plan that provided the ACA-required minimum essential coverage at a cost not exceeding 9.5 percent of the employee’s adjusted gross income; and
- Seeks to incentivize small employers (generally with fewer than 25 full-time and full-time equivalent employees) tax credits for offering minimum essential coverage under an employer-sponsored plan that meets the ACA requirements; and
- Created a system of one federal and various state health care exchanges or “marketplaces” through which individual Americans and small employers can purchase an expensive package of “essential health benefits” from private health insurers offering “qualified health plans” (QHPs) through the their state “marketplace,” if any, or for Americans living in a state with that elected not to establish a state marketplace, the federal Healthcare.gov marketplace;
- Uses federal tax dollars to subsidize a portion of the premiums paid by certain Americans earning less than 400% of the federal poverty level that enroll in coverage under a QHP through the marketplace applicable in their states unless the individual had the option to enroll in an employer-sponsored group health plan meeting the ACA’s “minimum essential coverage,” “minimum value” and “affordability” standards; and
- Requires all employers, health plans and insurers and each Marketplace accurately and reliably to collect, maintain and report certain key data needed to coordinate and administer ACA’s individual coverage mandates, employer mandates and subsidy rules.
For proper administration and coordination with other plans and employers and the administration by the Internal Revenue Service of ACA tax subsidies payable to qualifying individuals obtaining coverage in a QHP through an exchange, HHS regulations require each marketplace to implement and administer reliably an application and enrollment process for enrollment in QHPs through the exchange.
To enroll in a QHP, an applicant must complete an application and meet eligibility requirements defined by the ACA. An applicant can enroll in a QHP through the Federal or a State marketplace, depending on the applicant’s State of residence. Applicants can enroll through a Web site, by phone, by mail, in person, or directly with a broker or an agent of a health insurance company. For online and phone applications, the marketplace verifies the applicant’s identity through an identity-proofing process. For paper applications, the marketplace requires the applicant’s signature before the marketplace processes the application. When completing any type of application, the applicant attests that answers to all questions are true and that the applicant is subject to the penalty of perjury.
After reviewing the applicant’s information, HHS expects the marketplace to determine whether the applicant is eligible for a QHP and, when applicable, eligible for insurance affordability programs. To verify the information submitted by the applicant, the marketplace is expected to use multiple electronic data sources, including those available through the Federal Data Services Hub (Data Hub). Data sources available through the Data Hub are the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Social Security Administration (SSA), U.S. Department of Homeland Security, and Internal Revenue Service, among others. The marketplace can verify an applicant’s eligibility for ESI through Federal employment by obtaining information from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management through the Data Hub.
Generally, when a marketplace cannot verify information that the applicant submitted or the information is inconsistent with information available through the Data Hub or other sources, HHS regulations require the marketplace to attempt to resolve the inconsistency in accordance with HHS regulations before treating the individual as ineligible. Because of the presumption of eligibility built into the system, individual’s who care not verified as ineligible are treated as eligible. As a result, inadequate verification practices by marketplaces are likely to result in the inappropriate characterization of individuals as eligible for enrollment with subsidies.
Audits Show Marketplace Eligibility & Enrollment Practices Deficient
Unfortunately, recent OIG reports raising concerns about the adequacy of the eligibility and enrollment verification procedures of various marketplaces are raising concerns about the reliability and adequacy of the eligibility and enrollment verification procedures and resulting data of various marketplaces. For instance, in its recently released report, Not All of the District of Columbia Marketplace’s Internal Controls Were Effective in Ensuring That Individuals Were Enrolled in Qualified Health Plans According to Federal Requirements, HHS OIG Report A-03-14-03301 (the ”D.C. Report”), OIG reports that OIG’s audit of 45 sample applicants from the enrollment period for insurance coverage in the District of Colombia’s exchange for calendar year 2014 revealed that District of Colombia’s health insurance marketplace had ineffective internal processes and controls for:
- Verifying an applicant’s eligibility for minimum essential coverage (both employer-sponsored insurance and non-employer-sponsored insurance;
- Maintaining application and eligibility verification data;
- Maintain identity-proofing documentation for applicants who apply for QHPs;
- Verifying annual household income in accordance with Federal requirements;
- Maintaining documentation demonstrating that it verified whether an applicant was eligible for minimum essential coverage under an employment based health plan; and
- Ensuring that its enrollment system maintains application, eligibility, and documentation, including all electronic eligibility verifications from the Data Hub.
Deficiencies Create Likely Headaches For Employers, Plans & Individual Taxpayers
Given the importance of accurate subsidy eligibility and other marketplace enrollment information, marketplace audit results recently reported by the OIG finding certain federal and state health insurance marketplaces are not using effective internal controls to verify and administer eligibility and enrollment processes raises concerns not only concerns for taxpayers generally, but also could signal added headaches for employers and health plans.
Large employers and individual Americans receiving subsidies are likely to experience the greatest impact because of the reliance upon the IRS on marketplace data to determine employer and individual shared responsibility payment liability. However, all employers and health plans also could experience some fallout.
Large employers should be prepared to receive and defend against IRS assertions that the employer is liable for paying employer shared responsibility payment under IRC Section 4980H when an employee of the employer is one of those individuals that a marketplace improperly classifies as eligible to receive subsidies because of deficient marketplace eligibility or enrollment data collection and verification practices. In addition, all employers should be prepared to receive and respond to inquiries from marketplaces, the IRS or HHS seeking to investigate, verify and reconcile data relevant to the administration of the ACA market, subsidy, shared responsibility and other reforms of the ACA.
Meanwhile, employers, health plans and individual Americans alike should brace to receive inquiries from the IRS, HHS, marketplaces, health plans and others seeking to verify and reconcile marketplace data with data reported by health plans, employers and individual Americans. While timely and appropriate response to legitimate requests from the IRS, HHS, a marketplace or other appropriate party is important, all parties should be careful to verify the legitimacy of the request and the identity and credentials of the party making the request in light of the IRS and other agencies’ reports of the identity theft and other scams by opportunist criminals using the pretext of acting for the IRS or other legitimate purposes illegally to trick businesses or individuals into sharing sensitive tax, financial or other information. While all parties need to use care in responding to these requests, employers, health plans and their service providers also need to ensure that these procedures are appropriately conducted and documented to minimize their exposure to liability for violations of the confidentiality, privacy or data security requirements that may apply to the employer, health plan or other party under the IRC, the Health Insurance Portability & Accountability Act (HIPAA) or various other federal or state laws.
To help prepare for these potential inquiries, employers, health plans and other parties should ensure that their recordkeeping, enrollment and reporting practices under ACA are clean and ready to respond to these and other government or employee inquiries.
Employers and others concerned about the impact of these deficiencies on the liabilities of large employers, taxpayers or both may wish express concern to their elected representatives in Congress.
About The Author
Recognized as a “Top” attorney in employee benefits, labor and employment and health care law extensively involved in health and other employee benefit and human resources policy and program design and administration representation and advocacy throughout her career, Cynthia Marcotte Stamer is a practicing attorney and Managing Shareholder of Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, P.C., a member of Stamer│Chadwick│Soefje PLLC, author, pubic speaker, management policy advocate and industry thought leader with more than 28 years’ experience practicing at the forefront of employee benefits and human resources law.
A Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefit Counsel, past Chair and current Welfare Benefit Committee Co-Chair of the American Bar Association (ABA) RPTE Section Employee Benefits Group, Vice Chair of the ABA Tort & Insurance Practice Section Employee Benefits Committee, former Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group, an ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits Council Representative and Board Certified in Labor & Employment Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization, Ms. Stamer is recognized nationally and internationally for her practical and creative insights and leadership on health and other employee benefit, human resources and insurance matters and policy.
Ms. Stamer helps management manage. Ms. Stamer’s legal and management consulting work throughout her career has focused on helping organizations and their management use the law and process to manage people, process, compliance, operations and risk. Highly valued for her rare ability to find pragmatic client-centric solutions by combining her detailed legal and operational knowledge and experience with her talent for creative problem-solving, Ms. Stamer helps public and private, domestic and international businesses, governments, and other organizations and their leaders manage their employees, vendors and suppliers, and other workforce members, customers and other’ performance, compliance, compensation and benefits, operations, risks and liabilities, as well as to prevent, stabilize and cleanup workforce and other legal and operational crises large and small that arise in the course of operations.
Ms. Stamer works with businesses and their management, employee benefit plans, governments and other organizations deal with all aspects of human resources and workforce management operations and compliance. She supports her clients both on a real time, “on demand” basis and with longer term basis to deal with daily performance management and operations, emerging crises, strategic planning, process improvement and change management, investigations, defending litigation, audits, investigations or other enforcement challenges, government affairs and public policy. Well known for her extensive work with health care, insurance and other highly regulated entities on corporate compliance, internal controls and risk management, her clients range from highly regulated entities like employers, contractors and their employee benefit plans, their sponsors, management, administrators, insurers, fiduciaries and advisors, technology and data service providers, health care, managed care and insurance, financial services, government contractors and government entities, as well as retail, manufacturing, construction, consulting and a host of other domestic and international businesses of all types and sizes. Common engagements include internal and external workforce hiring, management, training, performance management, compliance and administration, discipline and termination, and other aspects of workforce management including employment and outsourced services contracting and enforcement, sentencing guidelines and other compliance plan, policy and program development, administration, and defense, performance management, wage and hour and other compensation and benefits, reengineering and other change management, internal controls, compliance and risk management, communications and training, worker classification, tax and payroll, investigations, crisis preparedness and response, government relations, safety, government contracting and audits, litigation and other enforcement, and other concerns.
Ms. Stamer uses her deep and highly specialized health, insurance, labor and employment and other knowledge and experience to help employers and other employee benefit plan sponsors; health, pension and other employee benefit plans, their fiduciaries, administrators and service providers, insurers, and others design legally compliant, effective compensation, health and other welfare benefit and insurance, severance, pension and deferred compensation, private exchanges, cafeteria plan and other employee benefit, fringe benefit, salary and hourly compensation, bonus and other incentive compensation and related programs, products and arrangements. She is particularly recognized for her leading edge work, thought leadership and knowledgeable advice and representation on the design, documentation, administration, regulation and defense of a diverse range of self-insured and insured health and welfare benefit plans including private exchange and other health benefit choices, health care reimbursement and other “defined contribution” limited benefit, 24-hour and other occupational and non-occupational injury and accident, ex-patriate and medical tourism, onsite medical, wellness and other medical plans and insurance benefit programs as well as a diverse range of other qualified and nonqualified retirement and deferred compensation, severance and other employee benefits and compensation, insurance and savings plans, programs, products, services and activities. As a key element of this work, Ms. Stamer works closely with employer and other plan sponsors, insurance and financial services companies, plan fiduciaries, administrators, and vendors and others to design, administer and defend effective legally defensible employee benefits and compensation practices, programs, products and technology. She also continuously helps employers, insurers, administrative and other service providers, their officers, directors and others to manage fiduciary and other risks of sponsorship or involvement with these and other benefit and compensation arrangements and to defend and mitigate liability and other risks from benefit and liability claims including fiduciary, benefit and other claims, audits, and litigation brought by the Labor Department, IRS, HHS, participants and beneficiaries, service providers, and others. She also assists debtors, creditors, bankruptcy trustees and others assess, manage and resolve labor and employment, employee benefits and insurance, payroll and other compensation related concerns arising from reductions in force or other terminations, mergers, acquisitions, bankruptcies and other business transactions including extensive experience with multiple, high-profile large scale bankruptcies resulting in ERISA, tax, corporate and securities and other litigation or enforcement actions.
Ms. Stamer also is deeply involved in helping to influence the Affordable Care Act and other health care, pension, social security, workforce, insurance and other policies critical to the workforce, benefits, and compensation practices and other key aspects of a broad range of businesses and their operations. She both helps her clients respond to and resolve emerging regulations and laws, government investigations and enforcement actions and helps them shape the rules through dealings with Congress and other legislatures, regulators and government officials domestically and internationally. A former lead consultant to the Government of Bolivia on its Social Security reform law and most recognized for her leadership on U.S. health and pension, wage and hour, tax, education and immigration policy reform, Ms. Stamer works with U.S. and foreign businesses, governments, trade associations, and others on workforce, social security and severance, health care, immigration, privacy and data security, tax, ethics and other laws and regulations. Founder and Executive Director of the Coalition for Responsible Healthcare Policy and its PROJECT COPE: the Coalition on Patient Empowerment and a Fellow in the American Bar Foundation and State Bar of Texas, Ms. Stamer annually leads the Joint Committee on Employee Benefits (JCEB) HHS Office of Civil Rights agency meeting and other JCEB agency meetings. She also works as a policy advisor and advocate to many business, professional and civic organizations.
Author of the thousands of publications and workshops these and other employment, employee benefits, health care, insurance, workforce and other management matters, Ms. Stamer also is a highly sought out speaker and industry thought leader known for empowering audiences and readers. Ms. Stamer’s insights on employee benefits, insurance, health care and workforce matters in Atlantic Information Services, The Bureau of National Affairs (BNA), InsuranceThoughtLeaders.com, Benefits Magazine, Employee Benefit News, Texas CEO Magazine, HealthLeaders, Modern Healthcare, Business Insurance, Employee Benefits News, World At Work, Benefits Magazine, the Wall Street Journal, the Dallas Morning News, the Dallas Business Journal, the Houston Business Journal, and many other publications. She also has served as an Editorial Advisory Board Member for human resources, employee benefit and other management focused publications of BNA, HR.com, Employee Benefit News, InsuranceThoughtLeadership.com and many other prominent publications. Ms. Stamer also regularly serves on the faculty and planning committees for symposia of LexisNexis, the American Bar Association, ALIABA, the Society of Employee Benefits Administrators, the American Law Institute, ISSA, HIMMs, and many other prominent educational and training organizations and conducts training and speaks on these and other management, compliance and public policy concerns.
Ms. Stamer also is active in the leadership of a broad range of other professional and civic organizations. For instance, Ms. Stamer presently serves on an American Bar Association (ABA) Joint Committee on Employee Benefits Council representative; Vice President of the North Texas Healthcare Compliance Professionals Association; Immediate Past Chair of the ABA RPTE Employee Benefits & Other Compensation Committee, its current Welfare Benefit Plans Committee Co-Chair, on its Substantive Groups & Committee and its incoming Defined Contribution Plan Committee Chair and Practice Management Vice Chair; Past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group and a current member of its Healthcare Coordinating Council; current Vice Chair of the ABA TIPS Employee Benefit Committee; the former Coordinator and a Vice-Chair of the Gulf Coast TEGE Council TE Division; on the Advisory Boards of InsuranceThoughtLeadership.com, HR.com, Employee Benefit News, and many other publications. She also previously served as a founding Board Member and President of the Alliance for Healthcare Excellence, as a Board Member and Board Compliance Committee Chair for the National Kidney Foundation of North Texas; the Board President of the early childhood development intervention agency, The Richardson Development Center for Children; Chair of the Dallas Bar Association Employee Benefits & Executive Compensation Committee; a member of the Board of Directors of the Southwest Benefits Association. For additional information about Ms. Stamer, see CynthiaStamer.com or the Stamer│Chadwick │Soefje PLLC or contact Ms. Stamer via email here or via telephone to (469) 767-8872.
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